Lake County male athlete of the year: Libertyville's Brendan Cook
Food and weights and pounds will always be there.
Experiences won't be.
That's how Brendan Cook justified the tough decision he had to make early in the school year.
It was the start of his senior year last fall, and he knew he would be playing football, his favorite sport, in college next year.
He was told by his soon-to-be coaches at North Dakota State that he would need to take his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and get to at least 265 pounds in order to be ready to play for them.
That's an addition of 40 pounds. That's a lot of Denny's, which is where Cook, a stud defensive end for Libertyville, likes to load up on the calories.
"I love the Super Slam. It's like $5.99 and you get eggs and bacon and sausage and hashbrowns and then I get a side of scrambled eggs and French toast and some cake for dessert," Cook said. "I'm not sure how many calories that is, but it's a lot."
For Cook, calories, and a lot of them, are good. The problem is, even with frequent trips to Denny's, Cook couldn't keep on weight very well if he played basketball in the winter, and volleyball in the spring.
Too much cardio in those sports, which aren't his primary sports, but he loves them just the same, and he struggled with the decision about whether to play them his senior year and enjoy their unique experiences, or get straight to work on putting on the 40 pounds he needs for college football.
"I really need to put on weight," Cook said. "Like five meals a day. I probably needed to spend the whole winter eating and lifting."
And yet, Cook decided that he'll always be able to cozy up to a booth at Denny's, but that time with his friends and teammates in high school was fleeting.
So after being a force on Libertyville's defensive line in football, Cook went out for basketball in the winter, and then on to volleyball in the spring. He wound up starting all three sports and having huge amounts of success in all three, making himself a "Super Slam" dunk for the Daily Herald's Lake County male athlete of the year.
"Brendan is a very hard worker who demands a lot of himself," Libertyville football coach Mike Jones said. "He is an excellent teammate who makes the players around him better."
Cook had 90-plus tackles and a team-leading 12 sacks in leading Libertyville to a berth in the football state playoffs. He was a leading rebounder on a regional championship basketball team that captured that title in one of the most dramatic and exciting local state tournament games in recent memory, and he was an integral part of the front line of a volleyball team that won more than 30 games and advanced to the sectional championship.
"I'm very, very happy I did everything I did. It's really an awesome opportunity to play three sports," Cook said. "I don't regret any of it. The work ethic and the leadership skills and the athleticism I gained from doing each one of those sports is huge. And to play in front of my community every single season this year, and to be with my friends and to have some really great experiences, it's just an unbelievable situation. There's nothing I would have rather done than play for those teams.
"I can always put the weight on."
In fact, Cook, who had gotten up to 238 pounds during football but then was down as low as 208 pounds during basketball and volleyball, has already put on 9 pounds in the last week since volleyball ended. Frequent trips to Denny's, and the kind of determination to meet goals that has made him the kind of kid to have the temperament to successfully juggle three varsity sports, has helped his cause.
"I just think a lot of it has to do with my mindset and my work ethic and how hard I work," Cook said. "I'm not the best basketball player or volleyball player, but I wanted to be good and I wanted to play, and I'm just the type of person that once I put my mind to something, there's not way I could stop.
"I couldn't imagine my life without competing in sports. It's everything to me, everything I do revolves around sports and I wouldn't settle for not being one of the best at what I do."
Cook is hoping he has picked good company to keep at North Dakota State, where being the best also seems to be a top priority.
The North Dakota State football team has gone 89-8 over the last eight years and has won seven of the last eight Division I FCS national championships and 14 overall.
"Everything about the program, their history and tradition of winning, I absolutely love. There was no doubt that's where I needed to go," Cook said. "I'm leaving to go there on Sunday and I know it's going to be hard to leave my friends and family. But this is my next chapter and I'm excited to get to it."
But not before giving a big shout out though. Cook says that he would be remiss if he didn't acknowledge his teammates of the past, and of the future, because who knows if a defensive lineman may get this kind of forum again.
"I promised my friends I would say this: I want to give a shout out to the West Side, that's my group (at Libertyville) and to Bison Nation, that's what we call our commit class (at North Dakota State) for always being supportive and being my boys. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I want to recognize them."
Now on to Denny's. Maybe after that shout out, Cook's boys should pick up the check.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw